Kiira Riihijarvi over her way to LPGA

Growing up, I always loved golf. I suppose I was a little bit of an outcast in that regard.

You see, I’m from Northern Finland. It’s cold, wet, and the weather is only warm about five months out of the year. This doesn’t exactly make golf the easiest sport to participate in.

I didn’t care. My dad always loved playing golf, so he taught me the game. I was hooked immediately. I had such a passion for the game that I moved to the United States when I was 18.

Some people dream about being doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. My dream was to play golf at the professional level. By moving to the United States and towards a warmer climate, I could work on my game year-round.

I wanted to see how far this incredible game could take me.

Once I arrived in the United States, I quickly discovered how popular golf was here. The competition was fierce. I knew that if I truly wanted to realize my dream of playing golf professionally, my time in America wasn’t just going to be a sunny vacation. I was going to have to work harder than I’ve ever worked in my entire life.

When it came time to choose a college to play golf for, I was a little late to the whole process. I’m from Finland so recruiting is quite foreign and confusing to me. I didn’t know how any of it worked.

Fortunately, there was a girl I knew from boarding school who played golf for the University of Tampa. I got in contact with her and was able to schedule a visit. I immediately fell in love with it. The campus, the city: I loved it all.

Tampa was going to be my new home. It still is to this day.

Playing at the collegiate level was my chance to see how much I could improve to reach my aspirations of playing professionally.

My time in college was certainly well spent, as I was able to get better each season. My confidence and passion also grew immensely with each passing year.

I know there’s a saying about leaving a place better than you found it. I’m proud to say I was also able to accomplish that. Our team continued to improve each season, and we won regionals and got the opportunity to compete at nationals during my final season.

I look back at my time at the University of Tampa fondly. I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without the guidance and support I received there.

I think my first “pinch me” moment in golf came when I got an invitation to compete in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. This is one of the most sacred grounds in the world of golf. The Masters, the green jacket: it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

To this day, I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to compete there.

More importantly, though, it gave me even more motivation to reach my goal of competing at the professional level. I wanted nothing more than to continue to earn opportunities like the one I got at Augusta National.

This past season, I competed on the Epson Tour to turn that dream into reality.

It was exactly what I needed.

Not only is the Epson Tour less intimidating than the LPGA Tour, the Epson Tour also gave me a feel for golf at a professional level.

And I couldn’t be prouder of finishing fourth on the money list to earn my LPGA card.

My dad made the comment that he can remember us back in Finland spending all those summers going to various Junior events. All those indoor practices, escaping the bitter cold in the winter. It was a full-circle moment for me.

It made me realize how far I’ve come.

But make no mistake: this doesn’t mean that I don’t have more work to do. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had a constant drive to improve. I’m not about to let that little girl down now.

If I could, I’d go back in time and tell her how this amazing game is going to change her life due to her tireless work ethic and willingness to get better.

I’d also tell her to embrace the harsh climate of Finland practicing in the cold.

It’s made us stronger.

And now, well, we’re ready for new challenges.

I can’t wait to see what the LPGA has in store for me.

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